Give a Holiday Gift of Hope

Are you looking for holiday gifts that have meaning and purpose? These days, we are blessed to have many socially and ecologically conscious companies to choose from when doing our shopping. So why not decide to "vote with your dollars" and focus on purchases that are not only appealing to your friends and family, but also do good for the world?


Here's one example I learned about recently through my work with the non-profit HOPE Foundation. Founded in 1999 by Maureen Forrest of Cork, Ireland, HOPE is dedicated to serving the slum and street children of Kolkata (Calcutta), India. The organization runs several group homes, which provide food, shelter and education to over 2,500 former streets kids on a daily basis. They also operate a hospital to serve the poorest residents of the city, a mobile night watch van that rescues at-risk children from the streets, and several slum-based health clinics. In addition, they offer a variety of services including psychological counseling, drug rehab, vocational training, and anti-human trafficking programs. I've been honored to sponsor a child through HOPE since 2004, and have visited their facilities in Kolkata twice only to be thoroughly blown away by the amazing work they are doing.


Kathy Wong is the founder of Soul Republic, a for-profit social enterprise that manufactures Moeloco flip-flops, which are printed with lovely designs and inspirational messages about love, peace and happiness. Aside from creating a beautiful and uplifting product, she knew that she wanted to collaborate with a non-profit for Moeloco's "one-for-one" model of donating a pair of shoes for every pair sold. However, it took her many months to find an appropriate partner. She was "feeling a little disillusioned" when at last one day a friend recommended she contact HOPE Foundation. "I almost immediately received a letter from [Donor and Programs Director] JP O'Sullivan welcoming me into the HOPE family," Kathy said.

Kathy felt deeply inspired by HOPE founder Maureen Cork, who for over 30 years has been doing philanthropic work in India without taking a salary, charging an airfare, or staying in a hotel. "The transparency, integrity, and reputation of HOPE really impressed me. The organization is totally dedicated to its cause," Kathy said. Kathy herself had always wanted to help children, as they are the most vulnerable of our population and also because she was not able to have any of her own. "HOPE cares for the children living in their orphanages and on the streets. They also serve the community at large."


Now, through its partnership with HOPE, Moeloco donates a pair of shoes for schoolchildren in India for every pair of flip-flops sold. Says Kathy, "I want to make individuals aware that we all have the power to make a difference and that we can eradicate poverty and suffering if we tune into what is happening in the world. Most people have no idea about the staggering numbers of children living in poverty and the consequences of children not having shoes--such as not being able to get an education. They might be suspicious about donating to charities, as they are not sure where their gifts will end up. So I thought the parallel giving, one-for-one model might be easier for many people to understand and relate to. I also want to inspire businesspeople by creating awareness of just how much power we have to make a positive impact. Imagine if all businesses adopted similar models for social good? The world would be a more compassionate, peaceful place."

As an entrepreneur, what Kathy enjoys most about her work is connecting with other "beautiful people" who want to make a difference in the world. Her greatest challenge is dealing with becoming overwhelmed with the scale of this project and being a solopreneur. She finds herself juggling many activities and limited financial resources. Having said that, her burning desire to do the work keeps her going.

Kathy offers this advice to other changemakers and aspiring entrepreneurs. "It's really important you have a strong WHY. The high and lows you will experience on this journey mean that it is not for the fainthearted. You must be prepared to be scared and uncomfortable daily."

Kathy suggests finding experts and mentors in the areas where you don't have the experience you need. Get a coach to hold you accountable and help you focus, prioritize, and stay on track. Find supporters and surround yourself with them. Don't be afraid to ask for help, show your vulnerability, and continually share your thinking for feedback. Finally, always honor yourself. Take time to rest and reset.

Photo credits: Kiran Ramchandran; Kathy Wong